At SC19: Bespoke Supercomputing for Climate and Weather

By Oliver Peckham

November 20, 2019

Weather and climate applications are some of the most important uses of HPC – a good model can save lives, as well as billions of dollars. But many weather and climate models struggle to run efficiently in their HPC environments, with users reporting “fundamentally inappropriate” node and CPU designs and job efficiencies below one percent. So when Bob Sorensen, vice president of research and technology at Hyperion Research, reached out to weather and climate organizations, he had a tantalizing question for them to answer: “What’s your dream HPC?”

Finding the dream HPC system for weather and climate

Hyperion Research, Sorensen explained at SC19, had been approached by NASA about a year ago to explore options for bespoke HPC solutions targeted at weather and climate research. To tackle this question, Hyperion conducted a two-phase study: first, they surveyed 15 different weather and climate organizations in the U.S. and Europe, including the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), the University of Delaware and more. 

Bob Sorensen, vice president of research and technology at Hyperion Research. Image courtesy of Hyperion Research.

“The focus of the study was to gather insights through a series of surveys with not only weather people from around the world,” Sorensen explained, “but also taking what we did in those surveys to understand what their requirements were for producing weather and climate research.”

Then, after asking those organizations about their needs, they approached major HPC suppliers – including Dell EMC, Cray, HPE and IBM – and surveyed them about the challenges and opportunities about developing a system suited for weather and climate applications. Sorensen said they wanted to “talk to HPC vendors and say, ‘what would be some of the options for producing that kind of system if it became available? How would you participate? What would your response be?’”

Phase one: The weather and climate organizations

“The concern we heard most has to do with feeding the beast,” Sorensen said. “Everyone was relatively happy with the CPU capabilities of their system, but bandwidth was considered to be extremely problematic. We heard time and time again that memory and storage latency and bandwidth are the big problems. It’s why the existing weather and climate jobs don’t run as effectively as they could.”

“If you have a data-starved CPU,” he said, “it doesn’t matter how fast your processor is.”

Organizations cited a lack of diversity in processor design and selection, Sorensen said, and showed eagerness to integrate AI into weather and climate workloads by using machine learning to optimize jobs. They also expressed a general reluctance to introduce GPUs into their workloads in serious ways, arguing that the “pain and suffering” required to integrate GPUs made them currently non-viable. And, after all, the respondents argued, if they were still bottlenecked by interconnect issues, GPUs would just widen the gap between processing power and results.

The weather and climate organizations, Sorensen said, “expressed their opinions very vociferously.” He stressed that the organizations were not united on all fronts (“We didn’t see a general, universal agreement”), and that even within organizations, it was “four, five, six, ten people” arguing in a room about how they should respond to the survey questions. 

“Even though you can argue that they’re all modeling the same Earth,” he reflected, “there’s a lot of different ways to do that.”

The respondents were also concerned about the scalability of their code, acknowledging that much of it would need to be rewritten – but, they said, they currently lacked the strong base of software development tools they would need to support rewriting.

Phase two: The vendors

“Everyone said, ‘Hey, we’re really interested in exploring this,’ but the level of commitment varied greatly,” Sorensen said of the vendors surveyed. Even at $10- or $100-million levels of buy-in, he explained, “they said that the opportunity costs of concentrating effort … just simply was too great, unless that particular box had applicability across a wider range of areas.” Instead, the vendors steered their answers toward flexibility: “How can you take that range of issues that are available out there in terms of the design flexibility of HPC, and turn it into a machine that most completely meets your requirements?” 

They also expressed confusion at the unclear requirements of the weather and climate sector due to their wide and varied workloads. “Vendors,” Sorensen said, “were very unclear on what really matters to these folks.” Furthermore, vendors were worried that if they tried to cater to a wide range of needs, the systems would have “too many cooks.” (“It will respond to everyone’s requirements equally, which means it doesn’t respond to any of those requirements very well,” Sorensen said.)

“Almost every vendor,” Sorensen continued, “said if you could spend a dollar on anything, spend it on software modernization.” Vendors stressed that more performance-per-dollar could be gained from investing in leveraging technology from the last few years: heterogeneous architectures, high-bandwidth memory, burst buffers, SSD/spinning disk combinations and more. They acknowledged that this would be an “exceedingly painful operation,” but, Sorensen said, the choice seemed to be whether to “fight one goal today, or fight two goals tomorrow.”

Moving forward

“Upfront codesign efforts are critical,” Sorensen said, stressing the need to “sit down with the vendors,” who, he said, were probably in the best position to know what would be available in the coming years. Furthermore, he suggested, “any of these codesign efforts should seek to engage the wider weather and climate community” – not just a select few organizations.

Sorensen presenting at NASA’s SC19 booth

Sorensen also highlighted the need for effective benchmarking. “This would be, I think, a critical element in NASA being able to assess the value of particular efforts – to say not ‘We got a system that is 500 petaflops,’ but ‘We got a new system that’s running this application 37 times faster than the machine from two years ago.’”

Sorensen suggested that weather and climate organizations embrace new workload compositions, such as AI for modeling and simulation. “Think about how you can enrich the modeling and simulation environment by using big data analytics to help you better some of your solutions,” he said. Beyond AI, he floated hybrid deployments as both a solution for absorbing large workload fluctuations and as a testbed for weather and climate researchers to experiment with new hardware and software offerings.

Finally, Sorensen saw opportunities for mutual benefit between sectors. “Find verticals that are in the same position that you’re in,” he urged. “Because if you go to a vendor and say ‘We really like this, is this something you’d be able to supply – oh and by the way, the pharmaceutical guys would love it, the oil and gas guys would love it and the automotive sector would love it too!’, you’re going to get the sales guy sitting up and listening to you.”

“I don’t think this is unique to the NASA environment,” Sorensen concluded. “And I don’t think it’s unique to the weather environment, either. I think that there’s probably an awful lot of use cases out there that haven’t been modernized yet, haven’t really adapted to some of the changes going on in the HPC sector in, say, the last five years.”

“I think it’s admirable that NASA is one of the first groups to step forward and say, ‘Let’s start thinking about this process.’”

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

The Present and Future of AI: A Discussion with HPC Visionary Dr. Eng Lim Goh

November 27, 2020

As HPE’s chief technology officer for artificial intelligence, Dr. Eng Lim Goh devotes much of his time talking and consulting with enterprise customers about how AI can benefit their business operations and products. Read more…

By Todd R. Weiss

SC20 Panel – OK, You Hate Storage Tiering. What’s Next Then?

November 25, 2020

Tiering in HPC storage has a bad rep. No one likes it. It complicates things and slows I/O. At least one storage technology newcomer – VAST Data – advocates dumping the whole idea. One large-scale user, NERSC storage architect Glenn Lockwood sort of agrees. The challenge, of course, is that tiering... Read more…

By John Russell

Exscalate4CoV Runs 70 Billion-Molecule Coronavirus Simulation

November 25, 2020

The winds of the pandemic are changing – for better and for worse. Three viable vaccines now teeter on the brink of regulatory approval, which will pave the way for broad distribution by April or May. But until then, COVID-19 cases are skyrocketing across the U.S. and Europe... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Azure Scaled to Record 86,400 Cores for Molecular Dynamics

November 20, 2020

A new record for HPC scaling on the public cloud has been achieved on Microsoft Azure. Led by Dr. Jer-Ming Chia, the cloud provider partnered with the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the Universi Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Gordon Bell Special Prize Goes to Massive SARS-CoV-2 Simulations

November 19, 2020

2020 has proven a harrowing year – but it has produced remarkable heroes. To that end, this year, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) introduced the Gordon Bell Special Prize for High Performance Computing-Ba Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

AWS Solution Channel

Introducing AWS ParallelCluster as an Intel Select Solution

High performance computing (HPC) system owners can spend weeks or months researching, procuring, and assembling components to build HPC clusters to run their workloads. Understanding and managing the complexities of compute, storage, networking, and software requirements can be confusing and time-consuming, slowing innovation and results. Read more…

Intel® HPC + AI Pavilion

Intel Keynote Address

Intel is the foundation of HPC – from the workstation to the cloud to the backbone of the Top500. At SC20, Intel’s Trish Damkroger, VP and GM of high performance computing, addresses the audience to show how Intel and its partners are building the future of HPC today, through hardware and software technologies that accelerate the broad deployment of advanced HPC systems. Read more…

Gordon Bell Prize Winner Breaks Ground in AI-Infused Ab Initio Simulation

November 19, 2020

The race to blend deep learning and first-principle simulation to speed up solutions and scale up problems tackled is one of the most exciting research areas in computational science today. This year’s ACM Gordon Bell Prize winner announced today at SC20 makes significant progress in that direction. Read more…

By John Russell

The Present and Future of AI: A Discussion with HPC Visionary Dr. Eng Lim Goh

November 27, 2020

As HPE’s chief technology officer for artificial intelligence, Dr. Eng Lim Goh devotes much of his time talking and consulting with enterprise customers about Read more…

By Todd R. Weiss

SC20 Panel – OK, You Hate Storage Tiering. What’s Next Then?

November 25, 2020

Tiering in HPC storage has a bad rep. No one likes it. It complicates things and slows I/O. At least one storage technology newcomer – VAST Data – advocates dumping the whole idea. One large-scale user, NERSC storage architect Glenn Lockwood sort of agrees. The challenge, of course, is that tiering... Read more…

By John Russell

Exscalate4CoV Runs 70 Billion-Molecule Coronavirus Simulation

November 25, 2020

The winds of the pandemic are changing – for better and for worse. Three viable vaccines now teeter on the brink of regulatory approval, which will pave the way for broad distribution by April or May. But until then, COVID-19 cases are skyrocketing across the U.S. and Europe... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Azure Scaled to Record 86,400 Cores for Molecular Dynamics

November 20, 2020

A new record for HPC scaling on the public cloud has been achieved on Microsoft Azure. Led by Dr. Jer-Ming Chia, the cloud provider partnered with the Beckman I Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Gordon Bell Special Prize Goes to Massive SARS-CoV-2 Simulations

November 19, 2020

2020 has proven a harrowing year – but it has produced remarkable heroes. To that end, this year, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) introduced the Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Gordon Bell Prize Winner Breaks Ground in AI-Infused Ab Initio Simulation

November 19, 2020

The race to blend deep learning and first-principle simulation to speed up solutions and scale up problems tackled is one of the most exciting research areas in computational science today. This year’s ACM Gordon Bell Prize winner announced today at SC20 makes significant progress in that direction. Read more…

By John Russell

SC20 Keynote: Climate, Exascale & the Ultimate Answer

November 19, 2020

SC20’s keynote was delivered by renowned meteorologist and climatologist Bjorn Stevens, a director at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology since 2008 and a professor at the University of Hamburg. In his keynote, Stevens traced the history of climate science from its earliest days through... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

EuroHPC Exec. Dir. Talks Procurement, EPI, and Europe’s Efforts to Control its HPC Destiny

November 19, 2020

While much of the HPC community’s attention is fixed on SC20’s flood of news and new product announcements, Anders Dam Jensen, the newly-minted executive di Read more…

By Steve Conway

Nvidia Said to Be Close on Arm Deal

August 3, 2020

GPU leader Nvidia Corp. is in talks to buy U.K. chip designer Arm from parent company Softbank, according to several reports over the weekend. If consummated Read more…

By George Leopold

Supercomputer-Powered Research Uncovers Signs of ‘Bradykinin Storm’ That May Explain COVID-19 Symptoms

July 28, 2020

Doctors and medical researchers have struggled to pinpoint – let alone explain – the deluge of symptoms induced by COVID-19 infections in patients, and what Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Azure Scaled to Record 86,400 Cores for Molecular Dynamics

November 20, 2020

A new record for HPC scaling on the public cloud has been achieved on Microsoft Azure. Led by Dr. Jer-Ming Chia, the cloud provider partnered with the Beckman I Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Google Hires Longtime Intel Exec Bill Magro to Lead HPC Strategy

September 18, 2020

In a sign of the times, another prominent HPCer has made a move to a hyperscaler. Longtime Intel executive Bill Magro joined Google as chief technologist for hi Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPE Keeps Cray Brand Promise, Reveals HPE Cray Supercomputing Line

August 4, 2020

The HPC community, ever-affectionate toward Cray and its eponymous founder, can breathe a (virtual) sigh of relief. The Cray brand will live on, encompassing th Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

10nm, 7nm, 5nm…. Should the Chip Nanometer Metric Be Replaced?

June 1, 2020

The biggest cool factor in server chips is the nanometer. AMD beating Intel to a CPU built on a 7nm process node* – with 5nm and 3nm on the way – has been i Read more…

By Doug Black

NICS Unleashes ‘Kraken’ Supercomputer

April 4, 2008

A Cray XT4 supercomputer, dubbed Kraken, is scheduled to come online in mid-summer at the National Institute for Computational Sciences (NICS). The soon-to-be petascale system, and the resulting NICS organization, are the result of an NSF Track II award of $65 million to the University of Tennessee and its partners to provide next-generation supercomputing for the nation's science community. Read more…

Is the Nvidia A100 GPU Performance Worth a Hardware Upgrade?

October 16, 2020

Over the last decade, accelerators have seen an increasing rate of adoption in high-performance computing (HPC) platforms, and in the June 2020 Top500 list, eig Read more…

By Hartwig Anzt, Ahmad Abdelfattah and Jack Dongarra

Leading Solution Providers

Contributors

Aurora’s Troubles Move Frontier into Pole Exascale Position

October 1, 2020

Intel’s 7nm node delay has raised questions about the status of the Aurora supercomputer that was scheduled to be stood up at Argonne National Laboratory next year. Aurora was in the running to be the United States’ first exascale supercomputer although it was on a contemporaneous timeline with... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

European Commission Declares €8 Billion Investment in Supercomputing

September 18, 2020

Just under two years ago, the European Commission formalized the EuroHPC Joint Undertaking (JU): a concerted HPC effort (comprising 32 participating states at c Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Top500: Fugaku Keeps Crown, Nvidia’s Selene Climbs to #5

November 16, 2020

With the publication of the 56th Top500 list today from SC20's virtual proceedings, Japan's Fugaku supercomputer – now fully deployed – notches another win, Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Texas A&M Announces Flagship ‘Grace’ Supercomputer

November 9, 2020

Texas A&M University has announced its next flagship system: Grace. The new supercomputer, named for legendary programming pioneer Grace Hopper, is replacing the Ada system (itself named for mathematician Ada Lovelace) as the primary workhorse for Texas A&M’s High Performance Research Computing (HPRC). Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

At Oak Ridge, ‘End of Life’ Sometimes Isn’t

October 31, 2020

Sometimes, the old dog actually does go live on a farm. HPC systems are often cursed with short lifespans, as they are continually supplanted by the latest and Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Nvidia and EuroHPC Team for Four Supercomputers, Including Massive ‘Leonardo’ System

October 15, 2020

The EuroHPC Joint Undertaking (JU) serves as Europe’s concerted supercomputing play, currently comprising 32 member states and billions of euros in funding. I Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Microsoft Azure Adds A100 GPU Instances for ‘Supercomputer-Class AI’ in the Cloud

August 19, 2020

Microsoft Azure continues to infuse its cloud platform with HPC- and AI-directed technologies. Today the cloud services purveyor announced a new virtual machine Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Nvidia-Arm Deal a Boon for RISC-V?

October 26, 2020

The $40 billion blockbuster acquisition deal that will bring chipmaker Arm into the Nvidia corporate family could provide a boost for the competing RISC-V architecture. As regulators in the U.S., China and the European Union begin scrutinizing the impact of the blockbuster deal on semiconductor industry competition and innovation, the deal has at the very least... Read more…

By George Leopold

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
Share This